It's not often that there is breaking news in the field of American folk art, but this is huge: a large and important folk painting by Ralph Fasanella given to the people of Oakland twenty years ago cannot be found anywhere.
A week or two ago I casually asked Laura Ruberto, a Facebook friend and colleague who lives in Oakland, if she had ever seen the Fasanella painting "Welcome Home, Boys" at the Oakland Public Library. The work, painted in 1953 and measuring a full six feet in width, had been purchased from a private collection with money from a local union and the public art fund of the city of Oakland in the early 1990s through an initiative called Public Domain. It was originally going to hang in the Oakland Airport, but the Public Library seemed a safer and better location. It was intended to honor the working class citizens of Oakland and the Bay area who fought for a piece of post-World War II prosperity after working for years under a no-strike pledge to help the war effort.
And there (on the blank wall above) it was when I went though Oakland in 1997 and stopped by just to see it. But when Laura went to the library, well, that's when things got fuzzy. The Library recalled sending the work to the Oakland Museum for restoration in 1997. The Museum staff told Laura that it left their premises in 2003, but could not tell her where it went. The Public Arts office did not know its whereabouts, but promised to investigate. Her story of her continued attempts to locate this work through the Library, the Oakland Museum, and the Public Arts office are detailed in her recent blog post, "The Case of the Missing Fasanella Painting." The whole episode is very disturbing.
Hopefully the work is simply tucked away somewhere in storage or hanging in a union hall somewhere in the city. Hopefully. I'll post an update when we know anything further.